x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Handmade Aston Martins for the wealthy

Built by hand and costing about Dh7 million, Kevin Hackett understands why people would want to watch their Aston get made.

When the One-77 is built, in the new, pristine white facility, the engineers go to the car, just like in F1 construction.
When the One-77 is built, in the new, pristine white facility, the engineers go to the car, just like in F1 construction.

I've always had this nagging feeling that it's a bit sad to go along to a manufacturer and see your car being built. It's not like being in the delivery room when your first child is born - it's simply a car - and these days the production process is monotonous, boring and robotic.

But then there's the latest Aston Martin - the stunning One-77. If you're fortunate enough to be a future owner of one or more of these supercars, then there's nothing sad about going along to see it being pieced together - in fact, if you don't take the opportunity while it's there, you'll very likely live to regret your decision. Because seeing the One-77 being lovingly built by hand reveals all inner beauty that, without a shadow of doubt, is every bit as impressive as its external architecture.

I doubt anyone who saw the One-77 when it was first unveiled, and then gasped at its enormous asking price (£1.2million, Dh6.9million), had any idea about the level of fanaticism that would end up being put into its production. And it's only by witnessing first hand a One-77 being built that the price suddenly becomes understandable, forgivable, even irrelevant.

These are uncharted waters for Aston Martin. Never before has the company embarked on a project remotely similar to this - 77 cars, each unique, each in Bugatti Veyron territory when it comes to price. And if you were expecting the One-77 to be built on some disused part of the existing production lines at the Gaydon headquarters, you'd be mistaken: the car's gestation takes places away from the hustle and bustle of the main factory, a few hundred metres down the road in a brand new, purpose-built facility.

Before visiting the whiter-than-white production hall, a quick word or two with Aston's design chief, Marek Reichman, in the recently completed design studios. He walks me round the original show car, which was unveiled less than three years ago at the Geneva motor show. It's actually a life-size clay model and Reichman is still surprised by how many people try to open its doors to climb in. "Very little has changed in its body design," he says. "There's no more than the occasional millimetre difference between the dimensions on the model and what's actually being built right now, which shows how incredibly hard the engineers have had to work to accommodate our design wishes. It was worth it, though."

It's an incredibly complex shape and it isn't until you look up close that you notice the fine lines, creases and unnatural curves that make it so dramatic. The entire rear end, for instance, is a single piece unbroken by the shut lines found on practically any other car in production today. It's formed by welding together sheets of alloy that are then hand-shaped over formers. "There isn't a tool in the world that could do this the way we wanted it," says Reichman. "So there was no choice but to go back to the traditional Aston Martin skills of hand-beating aluminium panels."

There's a frankly bewildering array of trim combinations available and, to be honest, if your pockets are deep enough, you can have your One-77 any way you want it. A number of customers have really rolled up their sleeves when choosing the various interior finishes (one is a laser-etched leather available for the roof trim that is quite incredible to see and touch) and, what do you know, one or two have also ordered a Cygnet city car to go with their One-77, trimmed in exactly the same materials in exactly the same colour scheme. It must be love.

Time to go and see the things being built and, after a quick drive to another part of the site, we pull up outside a blindingly white, obviously brand-new building. Chris Porritt, a man who, if you cut him in half, would have Aston Martin stamped on his insides, is the chief programme engineer for One-77, and he's obviously still very excited by what they're doing here.

"The original brief set by Dr Bez [Ulrich, Aston's CEO], was for a supercar that produced over 700hp, could do more than 310kph, satisfy Euro 5 emissions rules and show the world what could be achieved by the company when it set its mind to it. That was just three years ago and here we are, in a state-of-the-art production hall watching the first customer cars being built."

Porritt explains that he was able to hand-pick the personnel he wanted to work on the project, so he ended up with the very best from within the company. These individuals are busying themselves on four cars, each on its own two-post lift and each with its body panels protected by quilted covers, plastic sheets shielding the acres of carbon fibre that the One-77's structure is formed from. There's a sense of excitement in the air, that these guys really are proud to be doing this, to be making company history.

Unlike most modern car production, which is done with the car being moved through various work stations while each technician does the same job on each vehicle in a set time before the next one comes along, here the engineers go to the car, which remains static throughout - just like F1 construction.

The One-77's bodywork is hand formed by a company in Coventry, near Gaydon, which employs a large amount of ex-Aston staff with the required skill sets. The exquisite carbon structure is produced in Canada by Multimatic and the standards demanded by Aston Martin were as high as you can get. The weave perfectly matches everywhere, even the places you can't see - just like the walnut fascia of a Rolls-Royce. The engine is a reworked version of the V12 Aston has been using for a few years. Cosworth Engineering was tasked with turning it into a unit fit to power a hypercar and it ended up being enlarged from 6.0L to 7.3, producing 740hp. It's officially the world's most powerful, normally aspirated engine.

Dozens of aluminium billets are used to make a One-77. Some are fundamental to the car's structure, some merely cosmetic, like the sweeping centre console, which hasn't been bent into shape - it's milled from a single billet, which should give you some idea as to the level of obsession this car has incurred.

Each One-77 takes four weeks to build, not including the three weeks required to piece together the body and paint it. If one of them was to be mine (60 of the 77 build slots have already been taken, so I don't have long to scrape together the cash) I'd pay for a webcam to be installed so I could watch every stage, pore over every detail. Or I'd move in and live here every day until it was handed over to me. And even when it comes to presenting an owner with their new car, Aston has gone further than ever before.

In a side room off the main production hall, there's subtle lighting, leather furniture and Bang & Olufsen sound systems. It's here owners will come face-to-face with their One-77s when a screen retracts to unveil a darkened chamber with the car sat centre stage as no fewer than 750 OLED lamps flicker overhead to seductively reveal the car's breathtaking shape. Ambient music pulses away behind, but you're utterly transfixed by what your eyes are taking in. It's experiencing this that makes me call to mind the words of Dr Bez when he described the One-77 to me earlier: "It is alive. It is much more than a sculpture … It is living art."